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Manchin Calls for Partial Repeal of Health Reform

Manchin Calls for Partial Repeal of Health Reform

By Erin McPike and Scott Conroy - September 27, 2010


ROANOKE, W.V. -- In Democratic Gov. Joe Manchin's quest to strike a bipartisan chord as he campaigns to fill the late Democratic Sen. Robert Byrd's seat, he's joining the GOP's call to repeal pieces of health care reform.

Manchin endorsed President Obama's efforts on landmark health care reform and voiced support for the bill before and after its passage in March. Now, just five weeks away from a tougher Senate race than he expected against Republican John Raese, the governor said in an interview with RealClearPolitics that he supports many basic components of the law but volunteered that some of it needs to be repealed.

"I believe in health care reform. I don't believe in the way this bill was passed," Manchin said Sunday afternoon. "Why they overreached, I don't know."

Pressed on his support for repeal, Manchin clarified that he favored "repealing the things that are bad in that bill." He ticked off a list of reforms in the law that he supports and asserted there is broad agreement in both parties for many of them. "Can't you keep that as a good base?" he said, adding, "It's a great bill." He emphasized that he's not calling for wholesale repeal and just wants to roll back parts of it but said, "You do need to."

Few Democrats have called for repealing even parts of health care reform, although Arkansas Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln signed onto an amendment in August offered by Nebraska GOP Sen. Mike Johanns that would repeal a small portion of the law that creates additional paperwork for small businesses. Lincoln cast a vote in favor of the bill and now faces an uphill re-election challenge this year from Republican Rep. John Boozman.

Manchin and Lincoln are both suffering in their Senate races from Obama's dismal approval ratings in their right-leaning states and a climate unfriendly to Democrats. But unlike Lincoln, Manchin hasn't served in Congress before, and as governor, he is wildly popular with his constituents. In this abbreviated campaign for November's special election to fill the two years left in Byrd's term, Manchin's strategy relies on his personal popularity and gubernatorial record.

At the National Hunting and Fishing Day here at the Stonewall Jackson Lake State Park on Sunday, Manchin doled out hunting and fishing licenses to a handful of jumpy young children who were ecstatic to shake their celebrity governor's hand.

Darlene Murphy, a young woman from the area, yelled "Joe!" several times to the governor as he was wrapping up a presentation and motioned for him to greet her. Manchin bounded off the stage to chat with her briefly and handed her a business card.

Murphy said later that she's a Democrat, and she wanted an official photo of the governor. "I see him on TV all the time," she said but added that she had never met him before.

Richard and Helen Schoolcraft set up seats on the rainy lawn to view the presentation. They didn't know ahead of time that the governor was speaking and simply attended because Mr. Schoolcraft had a hunting display there, but they were effusive in their praise and admiration for the governor and what he's done for the state.

"I call him Joe," Mrs. Schoolcraft said. "He just fits in. He's one of us." She had never met the governor before Sunday's event.

The Schoolcrafts are registered West Virginia Democrats committed to Manchin this year, but they didn't hold back their distaste for Obama. They said they both voted in 2008, but neither cast a vote for president.

Republicans are banking on that dissatisfaction with Obama to bolster Raese. The National Republican Senatorial Committee has only begun advertising in three states so far this cycle, and West Virginia is among those three. The ad on the air takes Manchin to task for supporting several of Obama's big-ticket items and features a photo of the two Democrats in an on-stage embrace.

Raese said in an interview Sunday, "Today you can be a good governor in the state of West Virginia, let's say, or at least have a high popularity rate, but a lot of people in the state don't want to send him to be the next vote for Barack Obama, and it seems Democrats pretty much vote rank and file as Obama wants them to."

Martin Watring, a Republican in the audience during Manchin's remarks said he probably won't vote for the governor in the Senate race because he believes he's too closely aligned with Obama and is angry about health care reform, but he doesn't believe that Raese has much of a record to probe.

"It's the president and all the bullshit he's done," Watring said.

Asked about the disparity between his own popularity and the president's in his state, even among the registered Democratic voters, Manchin said, "I have been so blessed." He pointed out that he was first elected to the West Virginia House of Delegates in 1982 and has been in office or running ever since. "They've known me for quite a while," he said. "They've had a chance to really look at who I am and what I believe in and the record."

But Raese blasted Manchin for that, too, noting that the Mountaineer State is ranked 49th in the country for financial prosperity.

Manchin responded, "We're in a better cash position than we've ever been. People keep condemning: 49th, 49th. We're not. We have been for far too long, but we're moving in the right direction because people believe in themselves. We fixed workers' comp. Nobody believed in a lifetime that we could, but we privatized that."

Manchin took ownership of the state's recent improvements by noting that he committed himself to infrastructure as governor and invested most of West Virginia's federal dollars on related programs.

His message to tea party participants is that he sympathizes, and that much of what he's done falls in line with what they're asking.

"I respect everybody that feels that strongly," he said about the movement. "And I feel strongly. We feel so strongly about it, we started making the changes they're asking for six years ago in West Virginia. I had to start downsizing the size of state government."

He continued, "Everything they're talking about we did six years ago and today, we're one of the few states in the nation that can pay its bills, that can make it without the stimulus and we'll be better off. When this whole thing is over, we'll be more diversified, better to help and participate and be involved. I feel so strong about our state and so good about our state."

Erin McPike and Scott Conroy are national political reporters for RealClearPolitics. Erin can be reached at emcpike@realclearpolitics.com. Scott can be reached at sconroy@realclearpolitics.com

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